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02 Sep

Russia Will Not Restart Gas Flow to Germany as Planned

Credit…Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — The gravest risk to the embattled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is physical damage to equipment from shelling that could lead to a release of radiation, the director of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said Friday after a visit to the site.

Other risks abound, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna, a day after inspecting the nuclear station in southern Ukraine. The plant, with six reactors, has been repeatedly hit by artillery. Loss of external power to cool reactor cores and stress on the operating staff also pose dangers, he said.

“It is obvious there is a lot of fighting in general in this part of Ukraine,” Mr. Grossi said. “The military activity and operations are increasing in that part of the country, and this worries me a lot.”

Mr. Grossi said two United Nations experts would remain at the plant to provide independent assessments of its safety going forward.

Most of the damage from the war at the sprawling station, which is the largest nuclear plant in Europe, occurred during shelling in August, Mr. Grossi said, unless one considers the destruction from the battle in March when the Russian army captured the site.

Mr. Grossi said Ukrainian and Russian nuclear engineers had managed to cooperate in operating the site and that he was less worried about disruptions in regulatory oversight and supplies of spare parts causing problems, though these concerns are also significant.

On Thursday, Mr. Grossi and a team of 13 inspectors had crossed a front line in Russia’s war in Ukraine to inspect the plant. Six monitors remained behind at the site. Four will leave over the weekend, and two will remain permanently to provide independent assessments of the risks to the nuclear station, Mr. Grossi said.

While they cannot order a cease-fire or demand Russia’s army withdraw, the monitors will send out impartial information and advise the operators, providing an additional measure of safety in a situation that has alarmed governments around the world.

Mr. Grossi said the risk of nuclear disaster remains real, though he declined to assess the likelihood of a major “transborder” accident.

Before Mr. Grossi announced the agency’s findings, both Russia and Ukraine appeared to be trying to frame the outcome of the visit.

Ukrainian officials had sharply criticized the I.A.E.A.’s visit to the station on Thursday as playing along with a stage-managed Russian show intended to cast blame on Ukraine for the fighting around the plant and safety problems.

“Judging by the footage we saw yesterday, this visit was staged and had nothing to do with an inspection, which suggests bias on the part of the I.A.E.A. head,” Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs, said in a post on Facebook.

Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, had said Thursday that Ukraine and its Western allies did not want the inspectors to “draw any fair conclusions.”

Late on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused the Russian army of staging attacks during the visit to sow chaos in hopes it would turn the I.A.E.A. inspection into a “fruitless excursion.” He said the Russians had also forced local people to lie about the fighting in meetings with inspectors. His claims could not be independently verified.

“Russia did a lot of cynical things to trick the mission,” he said.

Mr. Grossi said that the inspectors’ access had not been impeded during the visit. “We have seen everything I requested to see,” he said, adding that he would brief the U.N. Security Council about the mission’s findings on Tuesday.

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